I would like to preface this by once again reminding you all how amazing Joseph is. He got up early and took separate cars to the barn just so he could watch the lesson and take pictures before leaving to drive all the way back to San Antonio for work. He could have slept in, or just left when I went to the barn, but instead he grabbed donuts on his way and still came out. Boyfriend points for life.
As much fun as Val and I had on Saturday, Sunday by far takes the cake. I had finally worn out my fire-breathing dragon so that he was relaxed and happy even when we started jumping. The other horse in our lesson had been having similar issues throughout the week, so my trainer set up a grid exercise to work on backing them off a little and making them be tight and quick with their knees.
The exercise was a trot pole to a cross rail, 1 stride to a vertical, 1 stride with a bounce rail to a vertical-vertical bounce, 1 stride to a vertical which eventually became an oxer. Nothing was set tight or short, but they still had a lot of poles to think about, and while the bounce wasn’t huge, it was big enough that they had to be quick and tight. They were both so good, they by the end we had bumped the final oxer up to 4′ and squared it. The other girl got to go up on more hole for a ramped 4’3, but we didn’t want to push Val since he was such a brave boy. There is maybe also the fact that starting at a cross rail and ending on a 4′ oxer made it look extra huge and I wasn’t brave enough to even ask…
Normally through these types of exercises, Val is pretty good, but I usually have to help with a little guiding outside rein to keep him straight, and I often have to sit up a bit between jumps and hold so he doesn’t rush through. Sunday though, he was so smart and by the end I was actually giving a tiny squeeze at the beginning to make sure we carried enough momentum all the way through, and I wasn’t helping at all with straightness or having to regulate his stride. We had one bad time through that was entirely my fault, and got fairly ugly. However, we came right back to it, and he was super honest and brave, and fixed what had gone wrong with our straightness and pace without being worried or upset. He was so smart about the whole exercise, which I was really proud of, since grids used to get him really frazzled.
Since Val was being so amazing, I was able to really focus on myself and a few bad habits that have been creeping in. I’ve tended to be hunchy with my back, my leg is often crunched up, and I have always had a tendency to duck and lay on the neck. I’ve also been struggling with keeping my arms independent of the rest of my body when I release, and in an effort to fix that, I’ve been curling my wrists and floating my hands above the neck. Based on the pictures, I feel like I successfully tackled all of those issues. Grids are so great for teaching your horse to fend for himself, and simultaneously allowing you to really focus on all of your individual parts and what they are doing.
Even though we stopped at 4′ (this is only the third time I think that we’ve jumped this high) there is clearly room for more. He feels so amazing at this height, and finally really starts to feel like he’s trying. He will often kick out his hind end over the jump, or at least get it extra snappy. I was really happy with how well I also stayed with him over each fence and didn’t fall back early. Even though we didn’t do courses, this felt like just what we needed, and assuming I can get enough riding in, while trainer is gone at a show, we’ll work on doing some bigger courses this coming weekend.
Did you do anything extra noteworthy this weekend?